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How to Make the 81st Deli TikTok Salad

Can't Make It to 81st Deli? Here's How to Re-Create Its TikTok-Viral Chicken Salad

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Cleveland, OH isn't the most well-known for its food scene, but one salad has managed to get people from all over the US flocking to the city's East Side to visit 81st Deli. The family-operated establishment is home to an unassuming chicken salad that now goes by the name "TikTok salad" on the menu due to its popularity across the app. Co-owner and creator of the salad Wael Herbawi has only been on TikTok since August, but a video he posted the same month of a family friend eating the salad was enough to catapult his business into internet fame. "Y'all better come up here and get one of these," his friend Tanisha Godfrey says in the video. Herbawi, who's filming, asks what she's eating and where she got it from, to which Godfrey responds plainly (and iconically), "It's a chicken salad. 81st Deli."

Herbawi never expected the salad to go viral, in fact he says he only created it because he wanted to add a healthier option to the deli's menu. The humble inspiration behind it was none other than his own mother's recipe. "It's something I grew up on," Herbawi tells POPSUGAR. "My mom would make chicken salads for a healthy dinner. The salads were pretty big since we're a family totalling eight, children and parents included." His mother's influence on 81st Deli's signature salad, Herbawi says, has made its rise in popularity all the more meaningful. "My mom is the best cook I know. I would always look forward — and still do to this day — to her cooking," he adds.

Clearly Herbawi's mother taught him well, because all over TikTok, you'll now see locals and out-of-towners alike visiting 81st Deli just to get a taste of the salad. Some customers have even traveled from as far away as Detroit and Miami just to try it, and the consensus is overwhelmingly positive across the board: it's well-worth the long line and plane ride in between. Those who haven't had the chance to make the trek to 81st Deli meanwhile, are left with an insatiable craving. "What I would give to go to 81st Deli now. It's all I think about all day," one TikToker says. "When the salad good but not a 81st St. Deli chicken salad good," another laments.

So what exactly is it about this salad that makes it so delicious? "The main ingredient that it's made with is love," is Herbawi's candid response. Love, plus a house dressing whose recipe Herbawi plans to keep in the family. He's only willing to reveal that it contains olive oil, lemon juice, and a "special seasoning," the main ingredient of which is a Palestinian-grown spice. The specifics are a trade secret, and only Herbawi and his mother, who taught him the recipe, know what they are.

The mix-ins of the salad are less of a mystery. In the viral TikTok, Godfrey mentions grilled chicken, pickles, banana peppers, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, onions before the video cuts off, but Herbawi later revealed that it also includes cucumbers, hard boiled egg, cheese, and croutons over a bed of spring mix made up of lettuce romaine, spinach and kale. Gathering these ingredients is easy enough if you want to recreate the salad, but to get anywhere close to 81st Deli's, the dressing and chicken marinade are key. "The tip I'd give is that one shouldn't skip out on fresh herbs and aromatics," Herbawi dishes. "Also have fun and add whatever you like to your salads."

Based on Herbawi's vague description of the dressing's "special seasoning," perhaps the safest bet is za'atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend often used in Palestinian cooking. The two other dressing ingredients that Herbawi is willing to divulge — olive oil and lemon juice — only produce a vinaigrette, but as you'll see in the many TikToks, the dressing is creamy and opaque. The addition of Greek yogurt seems to effectively accomplish that. The marinade is much trickier to figure out, since Herbawi is even more tight-lipped about its components. But keeping with the Palestinian flavor profile, I'd recommend a mixture of sumac, olive oil, and paprika, with parsley as the fresh herbs element.

Based on the footage alone, it's hard to actually tell how much flavor is really packed into Herbawi's salad, but it has layers upon layers of it. That's likely why, even despite making the salad practically nonstop for the new flood of daily customers, Herbawi still hasn't lost his appetite for it. "I probably eat the salad a few times a week," he admits. "I try to add new things to change it up. It will always be something I enjoy to eat." As the creator of the salad he may be biased, but Herbawi's comment is no exaggeration. The acidity of the pickled ingredients is perfectly balanced out by the freshness of the tomatoes and spring mix, and the cucumbers and bell peppers provide a satisfying crunch. The hard boiled eggs and croutons make it extra hearty, and the zesty, yet rich dressing brings it all together. The result is a savory salad that satisfies time and time again. It's easy to understand why people can't stop eating and talking about it. Only through a visit to 81st Deli will you be able to experience this famed salad in all its glory. But if you need something to hold you over in the meantime, this copycat recipe will have to do. To learn how to make it step by step, read on.

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Copycat 81st Deli Chicken Salad

Inspired by Wael Herbawi's recipe

How to Make the 81st Deli TikTok Salad

Ingredients

  1. 1 (5 oz.) package spring mix
    1 skinless chicken breast
    1 hard-boiled egg
    ⅓ cup cucumbers
    ⅓ cup cherry tomatoes
    ¼ cup pickled jalapenos
    ¼ cup banana peppers
    ¼ cup red onion
    ⅓ cup green peppers
    ¼ cup pickles
    ¼ cup black olives
    ½ cup shredded cheddar and mozzarella cheese
    ⅓ cup croutons
  1. For the marinade:
    4 tablespoons olive oil
    1 tablespoon sumac
    1 tablespoon parsley
    1 teaspoon light brown sugar
    1 teaspoon paprika
    ½ teaspoon salt
  1. For the dressing:
    ½ cup olive oil
    ¼ cup lemon juice
    ½ cup Greek yogurt
    ½ tablespoon za'atar
    ½ tsp salt

Directions

  1. Combine marinade ingredients and brush onto chicken.
  2. Grill chicken until well-browned then cut into bite-sized pieces.
  3. Prepare dressing by blending together olive oil, lemon juice, za'atar and Greek yogurt, and set aside.
  4. Place spring mix into a large salad bowl.
  5. Slice onions, hard boiled egg, and cucumber before adding to salad bowl along with remaining mix-ins.
  6. Top with shredded cheese and croutons, then drizzle generously with dressing.
  7. Toss together, and enjoy with a plastic fork for added authenticity.
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Kalea Martin
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